On Thursday 22 November 2012, Egypt’s President Morsi issued new constitutional declarations; then all hell broke loose.
The stock market had plunged a staggering 9.57 percentage points by the following Sunday. The fighting between the Central Security Forces (CSF) and protesters intensified. Judges around Egypt went on strike. Twenty-two Egyptian rights organizations unequivocally rejected the declarations in a joint statement; 18 political parties and groups called on Morsi to rescind the declarations. Yet more members of the constituent assembly resigned. Three protesters died. Then, demonstrations swept through the governorates as hundreds of thousands of Egyptians made it clear that they were not indifferent to the matter.
Morsi’s declarations resulted in the removal of the despised prosecutor general; the retrial of anyone convicted, from the revolution to his appointment as president, with regards to protester deaths; the immunity of the Shura council (the upper house of parliament) from dissolution; the immunity of the constituent assembly from dissolution; the authority for the President to take any measures he sees fit in order to ‘preserve and safeguard the revolution’; and the immunity of any decree made by the President from any body, judicial or otherwise.
From a man that already held executive and absolute legislative authority, this attack on the judiciary has raised eyebrows and a fair few tempers too. ‘The balance and separation of powers in Egypt has been utterly demolished,’ says a joint statement by 22 Egyptian rights organizations which was released last weekend. The organizations assert that Morsi has contravened the goal of the revolution – democratization – and that the arrogation of these unparalleled powers portends a ‘bleak future for Egyptian rights and liberties’.
Morsi defended his decision by saying he would give the powers back once a constitution and people’s assembly (lower house of parliament) was in place. In a statement he reiterated ‘the temporary nature of those measures, which are not intended to concentrate power, but to avoid… attempts to undermine democratically elected bodies and preserve the impartiality of the judiciary’. Many were less than convinced. Mohamed ElBaradei, Nobel Peace Prize recipient and head of the Constitution Party, cautioned that Morsi had appointed himself ‘Egypt’s new pharaoh’.
Eighteen political opposition parties and groups joined together to form a ‘National Front’ tasked with opposing the declarations. Among their members are ElBaradei and ex-presidential candidates Hamdeen Sabahi and Amr Moussa. On Monday, they called on Morsi to annul the declaration, refusing to have any dialogue with him until he has done so. The opposition parties called for a massive demonstration to be held in Tahrir Square on Tuesday; the people duly delivered, with the square as full as it has ever been.
Tents were set up in the middle of Tahrir Square as soon as Morsi’s declarations were made, with people promising a sit-in protest until the decision was overturned. One of the first to arrive was 79-year-old Khaled Hamza, a playwright and outspoken communist – Hamza spent five years in prison during Nasser and Sadat’s premierships due to his activism. ‘Mohamed Morsi-Mubarak is a dictator now, but he has even more power than a dictator,’ said Hamza, his insistence on referring to Morsi as ‘Morsi-Mubarak’ emphasizing this view.
Beside banners saying ‘Egypt for all Egyptians’ (perhaps an allusion to the Islamist-heavy make up of the controversial Constituent Assembly) and while the crowd chanted ‘One Hand’,Hamza explained the aura of unity he felt: ‘Today we are united in our anger at Morsi-Mubarak; nobody would care if I told them I am a communist now.’
By evening the Square was completely packed; chants of the initial revolution were now being directed at their incumbent president: ‘Down with the regime!’. But there were newer ones, too: ‘Morsi is Mubarak’, ‘Morsi is the new Pharaoh’.
Fighting with the CSF has been constant in central Cairo since the one-year anniversary of the Mohamed Mahmoud Street clashes on 19 November. Some 267 people have been detained in connection with the anniversary clashes and three have died during the recent protests. Another large concrete wall has been erected – a not unusual sight in downtown Cairo – blocking off Kasr El Aini Street to stop the fighting; instead it has just moved to Simon Boulevard.
It’s very clear that Morsi has to deal with this soon, before it gets out of hand. The masses are angry and the people are united. They realize that even if Morsi is honestly trying to speed Egypt into a new era of freedom and democracy, using dictatorial powers seems a slightly perverse way to get there.
Adam Ramsey is a freelance journalist living in Egypt. He has worked for the Daily News Egypt newspaper, contributed to Atlantic Media’s Quartz magazine and written for New Statesman magazine.